Well that’s it then, he’s finally lost the plot. He’s started his post about his holiday with a picture of lemons! Fear not, I haven’t lost it, at least not quite. I was thinking of the phrase “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Does it go like that? If it doesn’t it does now, at least it does for me. Yes, I did take this picture over in Zante (I’ll call it that for ease, the island is, of course, actually called Zakynthos.) There are lots of lemon trees there, and the lemons on them are stunning, bright yellow, vibrant, and as lemons should be. What does this have to do with the phrase? Nothing of course. I’m doing the aspie thing. To the point.
Before I go over the week’s events let me say this. Nobody on social media did anything wrong. On the contrary everyone was, as they always are, supportive as hell. You all said the things that instinctively anyone would in reaction to what I was tweeting. Issues that will be mentioned were my fault. Actually, that’s incorrect. They arose because of my illness problems. And remember, I AM ILL. And yes, I DO fight, every day. But I am ill, and sometimes I have to back off in order to protect myself against the very illnesses that affect me. Fighting is sometimes best done by protection, and that can sometimes mean secluding myself. Also, sometimes I paint a picture of things that look very rosy, very colourful, very sweet. But sometimes life is giving me lemons.
After getting through the ordeal of the flight out (which I am eternally grateful to the collective reassurances and support of my Twitter friends for) I arrived in Zante just in time to witness the mother of all thunderstorms. Not long after we landed I’m informed that they had to shut the airport due to an island-wide power cut. Good job we got there when we did! I got to the hotel and dumped my stuff (hotel room was perfect for my needs) and headed to a restaurant that I’d been to when I went to Zante with my mum & stepdad last year. They already knew about my food issues so I felt semi-relaxed about going there, and I was only in for a salad.
I was greeted by the staff like an old friend, which was lovely. By this time the thunderstorm had become a monsoon, not so lovely! I’d narrowly escaped it walking to the restaurant, but was due for a soaking going back! The salad came, and this was the first warning that the week was going to be a slog. It was a bloody salad. I managed half. I felt deflated to be honest, but tried again. Greeks love a simple dessert of yoghurt, honey & nuts. Tried, two spoons, finished. Shoot me. I could feel myself getting upset – this was night one!! Thankfully the waiter, who I’d got to know fairly well from last time, whizzed me back to the hotel in his car to save me from getting soaked. Once I got back in (the power was back on) I really let the floodgates open. They matched the downpour from outside. I was so upset, I knew things were going to be hard, but over a salad and a bit of yoghurt? I mean, in reality I’d barely touched either!
And this is where I realised there was only one way I was going to be able to dance with this devil. I was going to have to counteract every food journey with lots of walking. I knew that I would have to do more physically than I was actually consuming to be safe, but this was going to be the only way if I wanted to get anything out of the holiday and it not be like at home. I was so angry, but really, did I expect that this was going to be a “week off” from my illness? I think somewhere I hoped it would be. But you can’t just have a week off from a broken leg or a terminal illness can you? So I was kidding myself. And the same was true of any reaction to anything people said to me.
I’d been tweeting pictures of some of the things I had been eating. This wasn’t because I was thinking that I wanted to share that it was good I was eating something (well, apart from a couple of things because I found it “funny” in some perverse way), but because I found the foods interesting, stunning, and I wanted people to see them. It was a mistake, because I know that this illness will use it against me. Seeing the words “well done” or “go you” or anything positive about me consuming food is a gun to the temple. I had to stop it. Because the truth is this: every bite, every swallow was torture. The voice in my head said no. The voice in my head said I would pay. The voice in my head said it was temporary. The voice in my head said I should be ashamed. And I was, because I’m conditioned to be that way.
People could say that this week showed that I was fighting, and to a degree I was. I ate every day. I ate something small at breakfast time, and I ate salad 5 out of 7 times in the evening and a couple of other things two other times. Those times I was so out of my comfort zone that I barely touched the dishes, but I ate. Mind you, apart from once I never finished the damned salads either! Yes, that’s fighting to have some of the holiday I paid to go on. However, to get the sights & sounds of the holiday I had to do it at a pace, and that pace was in the form of not being able to sit & relax AT ALL. I walked, constantly. I walked so many miles it scares me (and I had some not nice “warning” signs that I must go and get checked out.) I won’t put figures in case there are people reading that get triggered by it, but suffice to say for someone in my condition it was a ridiculous amount, in areas that were challenging and in temperatures that were above 30 degrees.
That’s why I stopped tweeting. It was after the England v Belgium game I think. Someone said something about my confidence growing and I thought to myself, “is it?” And really, it’s no different to how it ever is. I wanted to see the game, there was no TV in the hotel. I made my way into the bar, a guy called Loz spoke to me, he was a Birmingham fan, we got talking a bit, his wife appeared and after 20 minutes I didn’t see him again. I was on my own. I didn’t engage anyone. I did have three vodkas, I did have an ouzo, I did feel drunk, I did pay for it the next day in the form of walking even further. Did my confidence increase this week? Did I make any progress with anything? I went on holiday on my own. That was a thing, a big thing, something I couldn’t see myself doing going back a couple of years ago. Was it easy? Not a bit. Would I do it again? Yes. Would it be any different? No. Am I any more confident than before? NO. Has my eating disorder improved any? Here’s the answer:
I couldn’t wait to get home and STOP eating.
Do you have any idea how much it breaks my heart to type that?
I fought to experience what I could from that holiday. Life gave me lemons, so I made lemonade. But at a cost. Now, less than 24 hours after I left Zante I’m already trying to undo the small number of lbs that went on just because my body isn’t used to having food in it every day. Nothing to do with what I ate, and believe me, I was not eating enough to sustain the exercise I was doing. It’s just biology V what I’m used to. I still am dogged by this shit. But I made lemonade at least.
I really am grateful that people express themselves in a positive way to me in reaction to what I tweet, but I set myself up without thinking sometimes, and the collective forces of anorexia and borderline personality disorder leap on opportunity and work against me. What starts off as innocence can suddenly make me so unhappy. So I shut up for a few days. Seriously though, thank you. Please don’t think I was being defeatist, I was battling, but to get out of it what I could. I just can’t progress – but the towel won’t get chucked in, despite the times I stand on clifftops and wish it could all be over.
Of course, no holiday is complete without a “Shirley Valentine” story, right? Ok, well, I had my moment. More than a moment really, and it ticked some of the cliche boxes. Her name was Maria, she was a Greek waitress at a taverna called Memories. That’s one thing I will definitely have of that place for life – Memories. She sussed something was “different” about me within about 10 minutes of me going there and picked it out of me what was wrong. That girl said some of the most wonderful things to me I can ever remember. She told me about how elephants are trained not to escape the circus from when they are born and by the time they are adults they don’t need to be tied down with heavy ropes, a simple piece of string will do, because the elephant remembers that all the effort it went to as a youngster to break free was fruitless, so it doesn’t try. She said that it was a shame, because now it would be easy. And then she just looked at me in the eye (not easy for me) and she said – “Simon, you just need to think differently, because you are wonderful, you are special. I want you to look in the mirror each morning and tell yourself just how beautiful you are, how handsome you are and I want you to keep trying. Don’t be like the elephant, don’t settle for what you knew, try something different.”
It’s not cool to cry into a bowl of chef’s salad. I didn’t want to be cool. I wanted to hug Maria. I wanted to hold her gorgeousness in my arms and tell her that she was amazing. I wanted to bottle her words and digest them. My eating disorder mocked them: “she’s after a tip.” She got a sizeable one in a card with a letter on the last night, the third night I’d been there in a row. Fuck my eating disorder’s words – she was genuine. She gave me a letter too, three pages long. It included the story of the elephant, and loads of other things she’d said to me over those three nights. No, the beautiful Maria didn’t fix me either, but her words WILL stay with me. They are planted. I left part of my heart in Zante, I left it with her. And we swapped email addresses. I guarantee it won’t be the last time I see her.
I won’t ever forget that holiday, but it wasn’t easy. I will savour the sights & sounds, but they were all under a barrage of “abuse” from my issues. There’s no “well done” to be had. There was no “bravery” because I gave in to the control these things have on me, and please, don’t say any of that stuff to me – if you think it then thank you, that’s good enough. Tell me at a time when I might be in a better place x But I got my sun. I got my sights. I got my sounds. And, unexpectedly, I met the most perfect girl I think I’ve ever met.
It could only happen to me that’s she lives 1400 miles away and is probably about 15 years younger hahahah!